After “terrible service” at Panera, can this customer get a fresh start?

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Christopher Elliott

After a Panera trainee gets Mel Ettenson’s order wrong, he tries to contact the company. Why isn’t it responding to his complaint?

Question: I recently visited a new Panera store in my area, and I had a terrible service experience. Briefly, here’s what happened: I placed an order, but the employee got it wrong and got it wrong and it took three tries to get it right. When I asked for a manager, she told me curtly, “This is a training store,” but she also made no effort to address the problem.

I’ve tried to contact Panera’s corporate office to let them know about this experience, but no one is responding. Can you help? — Mel Ettenson, Franklin, Mich.

Answer: How hard can it be to fix an erroneous order? As a frequent Panera customer myself, I’ve seen employees grab the wrong pastry or fill an order incorrectly, and when I bring the mistake to their attention, it’s always fixed promptly.

When a manager told you this was a “training” store, I would have asked: “Why bother opening? If you’re not ready to deal with customers, then stay closed until you are ready.”

I’m also troubled by the employee and manager’s the attitude. Either they were having a bad day or they were in the wrong business.

But there were attitude problems on both sides of this complaint. Your correspondence with Panera also had a few rough edges. You returned the company’s terseness, and you complained without suggesting a resolution. That made it easy for Panera to ignore your grievance.

A brief, polite email to Panera’s customer service executives — I list their names, numbers and addresses on my consumer advocacy site — noting your preferred resolution, should have done the trick. And when you contacted me with your problem, that’s exactly what I advised.

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You sent another, more cordial email to Panera. It responded within 24 hours with an apology and enough Panera points to pay for a few lunches. You’ve indicated you’re happy with this resolution, and I hope that Panera’s management has addressed the training issues. Maybe you’ll drop by the store to see if they’re ready to lose the training wheels.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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